MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin's recall campaign against Republican Gov. Scott Walker is the second-most important election in the nation next to the one for president, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said Monday.
The GOP rising star from Wisconsin said Walker's reforms, including stripping most public workers of collective bargaining rights, are helping school districts balance their budgets and attracting business to the state.
Democrats and their allies are trying to recall Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four GOP state senators, as payback for that collective bargaining change, which also forced the workers to contribute more to their pension and health care costs. The election is June 5.
"If Scott Walker or these state senators get recalled in June, what governor or state legislature in the future is going to take on these big structural challenges?" Ryan told members of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. "What politician in state government will take on these entrenched special interest groups and deal with the structural problems of their state if this is what happens do you? So that's why the stakes are so high."
Ryan said some in Washington, D.C., see it as a "national trendsetting election." He thinks Walker will win, but he predicted money from outside interests would make it a tough fight.
"Most of them assume he won't get recalled, but I always tell people, 'Don't make such an assumption,"' he said.
Ryan is the author of a conservative budget that Republicans pushed through the House recently, which includes proposals for deep cuts to Medicare and other programs, and for tax cuts that favor wealthy Americans. President Barack Obama has said the proposals are "thinly veiled social Darwinism" and represent a "radical vision."
In February, Obama unveiled a record $3.8 trillion budget plan, calling for stimulus-style spending on roads and schools and tax hikes on the wealthy to help pay the costs.
Paul spent much of his hourlong speech criticizing Obama and talking up the Republican-backed budget plan, which he drafted as House budget committee chairman. He said Medicare is one of the drivers of national debt and if the U.S. doesn't get reforms on taxes and other spending in place, it would have a fiscal crisis equal to that in Greece.
He said Democrats don't want to acknowledge that they actually need bigger tax increase to get the debt under control.
"I think the idea here is wait for the Republicans to offer their budget, then demagogue it, then distort it and then try to scare people ... in order to divide the country to distract the country as a re-election strategy," he said.
Paul has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who's closing in on the nomination. When asked about his name being mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, Ryan said Romney didn't speak to him about while in Wisconsin last week.
"There's plenty of time to think about that stuff later," he said. "If that bridge ever came to cross then I'd consider it then but it's just not something I'm focusing on because it's a long ways from now."
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